Mountain Express wins annual bid to operate the free RTA bus

Potential for Crested Butte South bus next summer

Tuck and Lizard have driven you from the ski area to the Eldo. And this winter, they just might take you all the way to the Last Chance in Gunnison.



Mountain Express will start operating the RTA’s free Gunnison to Crested Butte bus beginning mid-November. Alpine Express has been running the service for the past two years. The free public bus service funded by the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) will remain largely unchanged, except for the potential of a stop closer to downtown Crested Butte South next spring and summer.
Chris Larsen, Mountain Express manager, says, “Now we’ll be covering the entire Gunnison Valley for transportation service.”
Mountain Express competed with Alpine Express to win the RTA’s yearly bus service contract. RTA director Scott Truex says the Mountain Express bid was about $78,000 less than the Alpine Express bid. Truex says there isn’t really an overall price tag for the service, since the costs are calculated on a per-trip basis. However, the RTA’s budget for bus service in 2009 was about $410,000.
The RTA provides the buses for the service, while Mountain Express will provide drivers, fuel and maintenance for the buses. The RTA funds the entire service through tax collections and grant monies.
Larsen says operating the RTA service will not necessarily improve the finances of Mountain Express. It will, however, provide their drivers with more hours. “At first we were looking at cutting hours [this winter],” Larsen says.
Truex estimates the service requires 20 to 30 hours a day in labor, between drivers and mechanics, and says he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Alpine Express drivers started working for Mountain Express.
Alpine Express co-owner Stewart Johnson says, “We’re obviously disappointed that we didn’t get the bid, but that’s business.” The contract is yearly, and Johnson admits that Alpine Express could make a bid next year. “We’ll just have to see where we’re at next year and make a decision at that time,” he says.
“We’ve been really happy with Alpine Express. They’ve done a great job,” Truex says. “Without Stewart and their employees, I’m not sure we’d have a bus system right now.”
Truex credits the knowledge of the Alpine Express drivers and mechanics for helping with engine troubles and warranty issues on the buses, of which there have been many.
As part of the deal, Mountain Express will be responsible for renting a facility in Gunnison to house the buses. Truex says the vehicles will continue to be housed in the old H&H Towing building.
Maintenance on the buses can be done both at the Gunnison storage facility, and the new bus barn in Crested Butte.
For the upcoming year’s service agreement, the RTA also gave transit companies the option to include a cost estimate for providing an additional stop in the Crested Butte South commercial district.
Larsen says Mountain Express included the stop in their bid, but the RTA board decided on Friday, September 18 not to add the extra Crested Butte South stop this winter.
“The price was not too bad,” Truex says. “The reality was, on the trips we could do it on, we were afraid the buses would be full pretty regularly.”
Truex says the RTA board will revisit running buses to Crested Butte South during the next spring, summer and fall. “That’s when we’ll have room on the buses and time in the schedule,” he says.
Larsen says the operation of the RTA’s bus will be controlled separately from the operation of the regular Mountain Express town shuttles. For drivers, Larsen says, the RTA’s transit buses wont be much of a change. “When it gets down to it, a bus is a bus. I suppose we’ll be going 55 instead of 35… and yea, the buses are newer.”

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